Developing a framework for relationship intention, satisfaction, loyalty and retention of SMEs in the business-to-business financing environment
Mentz, Margaretha Henriëtha
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In the business-to-business (B2B) financing industry, financiers offering financing to SMEs are finding it increasingly difficult to attract new customers and to retain existing customers. One way of attracting and retaining customers is by creating superior customer satisfaction, as it is believed that customer satisfaction leads to loyalty which ultimately results in customer retention. Customer satisfaction could also be an important indicator as to whether customers would want to build long-term relationships with financiers. With the current tendency towards the standardisation of financing products and services, building and maintaining relationships with customers is becoming increasingly important as a way to distinguish financiers from their competitors and, concurrently, to ensure survival. However, not all customers want to build long-term relationships with financiers. It is therefore important that financiers should identify those customers who have positive relationship intentions and focus their marketing efforts on these customers. The primary objective of this study was to develop a framework for relationship intention, satisfaction, loyalty and retention of SMEs in the business-to-business (B2B) financing environment. The descriptive research of this study is based on information gathered through quantitative, self-administered electronic surveys that were distributed among a South African financier’s (Business Partners Limited) customer database. In total, 120 SME respondents participated in the study, resulting in a final realisation rate of 12%. Results from this study indicate that the relationship intention measuring scale used in this study was valid and reliable in the B2B context within the financing environment. Results also show a significantly large positive relationship between respondents’ overall satisfaction and their loyalty towards Business Partners Limited (BPL), as well as a significantly large positive relationship between respondents’ loyalty and retention towards BPL. In addition, respondents with high relationship intentions showed higher overall satisfaction with loyalty and retention towards BPL than those respondents with moderate and low relationship intentions. Furthermore, the results indicated that respondents with moderate relationship intentions have higher overall satisfaction with BPL than those respondents with low relationship intentions. Respondents with moderate relationship intentions also displayed higher loyalty and retention towards BPL than those respondents with low relationship intentions. The results furthermore showed positive linear relationships between respondents’ relationship intentions and their overall satisfaction with BPL, between respondents’ relationship intentions and their loyalty towards BPL, as well as between respondents’ relationship intentions and their retention towards BPL. The results did not point to any clear parallels between respondents’ business size and their overall satisfaction, loyalty or retention. However, this study found positive relationships between respondents’ relationship intentions and their satisfaction, loyalty and retention. It is especially noteworthy that customers showing high relationship intentions overall, also showed a higher inclination to be satisfied, to be loyal and to become repeat customers (thus indicating retention). It is therefore recommended that financiers should rather use their customers’ relationship intentions and not their business size as focus, because strong positive relationships exist between respondents’ relationship intentions and their overall satisfaction, loyalty and retention. It is furthermore recommended that financiers should focus their marketing efforts and spending on customers with high relationship intentions as these customers tend to show higher satisfaction, loyalty and retention than those customers with moderate and low relationship intentions. Future research may consider using the relationship intentions measuring scale found to be valid and reliable in this study to other B2B contexts to determine the applicability thereof in other industries. Also, future research could consider testing the antecedents of relationship intentions, such as perceived brand equity, perceived organisation equity and perceived channel equity to determine the influence thereof on customers' relationship intentions. Finally, the study can be replicated under financiers’ B2C customers to determine whether relationship intentions are also applicable to these customers in the financing environment.